Wildlife sightings 13 Feb 2015

Notes from the Discovery Centre team – Alex

The Bass Rock still awaits the first landings of the gannets this year, though there are still reports of them circling the island. As Valentine’s Day approaches we may yet have another repeat of earlier years, with the gannets landing on this particular day.

The peregrine continues to make appearances on Fidra and, at the weekend, one was spotted feeding on a carcass, though it was not clearly visible on the cameras. During the week the male and female were spotted with a fresh kill. With the return of fulmars and guillemots, as well as the first sightings of razorbills this year, the peregrines will now have an increased food supply on the island.

Andy and Claudia visited Craigleith on Thursday and were able to fix the cliff camera. During their trip they spotted the peregrine just below the camera, perching on top of the cliff. Upon returning to the Centre they were able to locate it, again just below the camera. The welcome return of the Craigleith camera also allows us to see groups of guillemots as well as the cormorant colony.

The May continues to show the nesting shags, Charlie and Juliette, as well as Portia who continues to interfere with their nest preparations. Seals can also still be seen on the beach as they return to the island to moult, as well as the guillemots on the stacks.

Sightings – Maggie Sheddan

75259 AOS!! We can shout it from the rooftops now, and I can finally add more ‘gannets’ to the Bass Rock model to bring it up-to-date!

May 2000, 15 years ago, as the Seabird Centre with its world leading remote cameras opened its doors and the eyes of the world as it beamed the first live images across the screens of this iconic rock with its vast gannet colony (appx 39,000 AOS.) To be able to observe behaviour and watch the breeding season unfold has brought so much excitement and interest from the thousands of visitors that have visited whether controlling the camera in the Centre, scanning for that first bird arriving, that first egg, or the first chic, or for others a boat trip around the rock that stimulates the senses as the noise, that distinctive odour engulfs you as your absorbed into the world of this gannet city. Webcam viewing links the world to this amazing colony and for others enjoying a cuppa on the viewing deck pondering on this giant ‘white volcanic plug’ that sits just 3 miles offshore some unaware of quite why it is white.

In 2004 the Centre started to land visitors, at first short visits but the reality that photographers needed more time brought the launch of the photographic landings and I fell into the role of Bass guide. That summer the 5 year aerial count was undertaken by Stuart Murray and along with Mike Harris and Sarah Wanless they revealed the colony had increased to 48,098 AOS. Each season the colony extended just that little further, we were losing areas. During one bad weather spell, on finally landing 8 new sites had been established and they were not moving! The rule, if they have the egg, the site is theirs. Unfortunately that created an ‘island’ which on one side was the rather sheer drop to the sea. It was cordoned off and by the following season the strip had infilled and the safety hazard gone with the cliff edge now inaccessible. One area close to the path just didn’t expand. I instilled a slight diversion for 2 seasons and soon they settled and importantly bred.

By 2009 the increase was very obvious. When you land and head up to the photographic area you find hundreds of non-breeders, club birds, others trying to take to a site and attract a partner, you are met by a sea of gannets. As the non-breeders move off , there is now an exposed bird on an egg…As I said, the rule is enforced and that bird is protected and dare I say through gritted teeth, as I know I’m on a losing battle with the space and before next season that lone bird will be surrounded.

2009 another count showing indeed the colony had extended to 55,482 AOS another substantial increase. What was interesting was in 2004 we were behind St Kilda in numbers by just over 11,000 pairs, by 2009 only by 5,000. The Bass was increasing at a dramatic rate and St Kilda was slowing down and we’ll look at the possible reason for that in subsequent bulletins.

From 2009 to 2014 the changes were quite dramatic – shags were being pushed out of their habitat, the mallow was vanishing on the area in front of the battlement and we had various ‘weegies’ trying to nest on paths which ‘rule of egg’ produced some rather creative dance moves to avoid them. Always watch the bill, need I say more for the male visitor! But winter visits were also providing vital information. The Rock may be desolate but the evidence is there. At first a few haphazard nests near to the keeper’s gardens, showing that odd birds were nesting, but slowly over a few years a uniformed line of craters emerged in areas not thought possible for nesting yet there was the evidence.

Summer 2014 per chance I’d met Stuart and was aware the count was due. I undertook a count of non-breeders, on the low promontory and battlements and passed that onto Mike and Sarah.

The Bass Rock is the world’s largest Northern gannetry with 75,259 AOS overtaking St Kilda by just over 15,000 and overtaking Bonaventure which had been expected to overtake St Kilda. St Kilda has remained ‘steady’, Bonaventure numbers have dropped, but it does show how easily numbers can drop whether climatic or the very complex issues within our oceans.

We are within 40 minutes commute of the Festival city. We have the largest Northern gannetry in the world 3 miles offshore. 10 miles away we have the largest east coast puffin colony and one of the largest grey seal east coast breeding colonies all on the Isle of May. The May with CEH and SMRU have some of the longest intense research programmes, covering 40+ years and don’t forget we had Bryan Nelson (our mentor) live and breathe the life of gannets on the Rock. This year we hope that some serious studies will be undertaken by Glasgow and Leeds university and CEH.

Let’s relish this wonderful news about the Bass Rock!

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